by Helen Moon
This second-to-last ‘Making Woolwich’ blog focuses on one of the most famous of Woolwich’s military figures. Though he was not a Gunner, this man was regarded as one of the great figures of his age and is still memorialised to this this day.
Charles Gordon was born in 1833 at Kempt’s Terrace, 29 The Common, Woolwich. Educated at the Royal Military Academy on Shooters Hill, he was commissioned into the Royal Engineers in 1852.
Gordon made his military reputation in China, where he commanded a force of Chinese soldiers. Under his leadership, they regularly defeated much larger forces. This led to his nickname of “Chinese” Gordon. Later, when he was Governor General of Sudan, he worked hard to suppress the slave trade.
During the Anglo-Sudan War, Gordon was sent to evacuate the soldiers and civilians from the city of Khartoum, which was under attack. Going against his orders, Gordon stayed and defended the city, holding it for almost a year. The British public admired his bravery, but the government was less supportive of his actions. Public pressure forced the government to reluctantly send a relief force. However, it arrived too late; the city had fallen and Gordon was dead.
His reputation was such, that he was publicly memorialised in many ways. General Gordon Square in Woolwich still carries his name and a school was founded in his memory. These being just two of the many memorials to him.
Gordon never married and left no family. He said his Army service and travels to dangerous places made him “a dead man walking”, who could only hurt a wife, as it was inevitable he would die in battle.
Are you interested in finding out more about other famous Woolwich people, or knowing more about your own family’s history? Then contact or visit the Search Room at Greenwich Heritage Centre.
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